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Poetry at the Leonardo da Vinci Anatomist exhibition

Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist exhibition, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

I was fortunate to attend this event which was presented by the Poetry Society
and included readings by Jo Shapcott and Maurice Riordan .

There was not a corgi in site, but definitely a certain brisk English efficiency and Elgar in the air as well as plush carpeting underfoot as I arrived at the Queens Gallery. I bought two postcards of da Vinci drawings and said hello to the lovely Alison McVety and Zaffar Kumial before wandering around the gallery to see da Vinci’s incredible anatomical studies. These are from his notebooks which also contain notes written in da Vinci’s distinctive mirrored writing. The notes range from highly detailed description to shopping lists. I’ve long been fascinated with da Vinci, particularly with these studies, and have written a few poems about him and am working on some more.

I can highly recommend this exhibition which runs until the 7th of October. You can find more details here .

The poetry reading began with Jo Shapcott explaining how she had been gripped by da Vinci’s drawings more than twenty years ago during a visit to the Hayward Gallery, and how she was and is fascinated by the ways in which he approached the subject from so many angles, literally and also through various media. As shown in Shapcott’s latest collection ‘Of Mutibility’ and in her earlier poems such as ‘Matter’ in which a lover touches the speakers skin all afternoon

as though he could feel
the smallest particles
which made me up

Shapcott is concerned with what is inside and outside of the body, with the tactile and the visual, the seen and the unseen, the emotional and the visceral,  and she uses her considerable skill as a poet to examine these profound relationships.

Maurice Riordan then read several quite lengthy (‘this next one’s about two hours long’ Riordan joked) but beautifully fluid poems which all contained references to the human body and were linked by this theme during a riveting reading. The poem that stays with me was written around the time of the discovery of the body of a Neolithic man about twenty years ago above the treeline of the alps as the glacier retreated, and delicately examined possibilities of how he came to be there and who he might have been.

In a question and answer session that followed the poets explained their understanding of da Vinci’s relationship with words, the difficulties he encountered while dissecting corpses, not least the inability at the time to preserve them for very long before they putrefied, and how the app. that accompanies the exhibition enabled them a certain intimacy with the work, allowing the user to translate notes and view drawings in close up. All in all this sounds like an amazing tool, and as Jo Shapcott concluded, Leonardo would have loved it.

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